Preparing Your Application

This will focus on preparing a Rails application, but most ideas expressed here have parallels in Python, or PHP applications

1. Commit your application to some externally available source control hosting provider.

If you are not doing so already, you should host your code somewhere with a provider such as GitHub, BitBucket, Codeplane, or

Capistrano currently supports Git, Mercurial, and SVN out of the box. There might be 3rd party plugins adding support for various other systems.

2. Move secrets out of the repository.

If you've accidentally committed state secrets to the repository, you might want to take special steps to erase them from the repository history for all time.

Ideally one should remove config/database.yml to something like config/database.yml.example. You and your team should copy the example file into place on their development machines, under Capistrano. This leaves the database.yml filename unused so that we can symlink the production database configuration into place at deploy time.

The original database.yml should be added to the .gitignore (or your SCM’s parallel concept of ignored files)

$ cp config/database.yml{,.example}
$ echo config/database.yml >> .gitignore

This should be done for any other secret files, we’ll create the production version of the file when we deploy, and symlink it into place.

3. Initialize Capistrano in your application.

$ cd my-project
$ cap install

This will create a bunch of files, the important ones are:

├── Capfile
├── config
│   ├── deploy
│   │   ├── production.rb
│   │   └── staging.rb
│   └── deploy.rb
└── lib
    └── capistrano
            └── tasks

Your new Capfile will automatically include any tasks from any *.rake files in lib/capistrano/tasks.

4. Configure your server addresses in the generated files.

We’ll just work with the staging environment here, so you can pretend that config/deploy/production.rb doesn’t exist, for the most part that’s your business.

Capistrano breaks down common tasks into a notion of roles, that is, taking a typical Rails application that we have roughly speaking three roles, web, app, and db.

The three roles can be confusing, as the boundary of web and app servers is a bit blurry if, for example, using Passenger with Apache, which in effect embeds your app server in the web server (embeds Passenger in the Apache process itself). Confusingly, Passenger can also be used in modes where this isn’t true, so we’ll ignore that for the time being. If you know the difference (i.e you are using nginx as your web server, and puma/unicorn, or similar for your app server, that should be fine), then we can assume that they’re the same, which is pretty common.

The example file generated will look something like this:

set :stage, :staging

# Simple Role Syntax
# ==================
# Supports bulk-adding hosts to roles, the primary
# server in each group is considered to be the first
# unless any hosts have the primary property set.
role :app, %w{}
role :web, %w{}
role :db,  %w{}

# Extended Server Syntax
# ======================
# This can be used to drop a more detailed server
# definition into the server list. The second argument
# is something that quacks like a hash and can be used
# to set extended properties on the server.
server '', roles: %w{web app}, my_property: :my_value

# set :rails_env, :staging

Servers can be defined in two ways, implicitly using the simple role syntax and explicitly using the extended server syntax. Both result in one or more servers for each role being defined. The app and db roles are just placeholders, if you are using the capistrano/rails-* addons (more on that later) then they have a meaning, but if you are deploying something simpler, feel free to delete them if they’re meaningless to you.

Both types can specify optional properties to be associated with a server or role. These properties include Capistrano-required ones such as the SSH options (username, port, keys etc.) and also arbitrary custom properties. They are there in case people want to build the server list more comprehensively from something like the EC2 command line tools, and want to use the extended properties for something that makes sense in their environment.

The following shows defining two servers: one where we set the username, and another where we set the port. These host strings are parsed and expanded out in to the equivalent of the server line after the comment:

# using simple syntax
role :web, %w{}

# using extended syntax (which is equivalent)
server '', roles: [:web], user: 'hello'
server '', roles: [:web], port: 1234

You can define a server or role using both syntaxes and the properties will be merged. See the Properties Documentation for details

If you define servers with either the simple or the extended syntax and explicitly specify a user or a port number, the last definition will win. This is identical behaviour to scalar custom properties. In older versions of Capistrano, multiple servers were created and the merging was ill-defined.

5. Set the shared information in deploy.rb.

The deploy.rb is a place where the configuration common to each environment can be specified, normally the repository URL and the user as whom to deploy are specified here.

The generated sample file starts with the following, and is followed by a few self-documenting, commented-out configuration options, feel free to play with them a little:

  set :application, 'my_app_name'
  set :repo_url, ''
  ask :branch, proc { `git rev-parse --abbrev-ref HEAD`.chomp }

Here we’d set the name of the application, ideally in a way that’s safe for filenames on your target operating system.

Second we set the repository URL, and this MUST be somewhere that the server we are deploying to can reach.

Here’s how this might look in a typical example: note that we’ll cover authentication in the next chapter, but for now we’ll assume this repository is open source, taking an example application from the Rails Examples and Tutorials site. There we’ll find maintained a handful of typical Rails apps with typical dependencies.

The Rails application they host, which uses Devise (for authentication) and Cancan (for authorisation) along side Twitter Bootstrap for assets has been forked to the Capistrano repository, but you can find the (unchanged) original here.

  set :application, 'rails3-bootstrap-devise-cancan-demo'
  set :repo_url, ''
  set :branch, 'master'

I’ve simplified the :branch variable to simply be a set variable, and not a question prompt, as this repository only has a master branch.


At this point Capistrano knows where to find our servers, and where to find our code.

We’ve not covered how we authorise our servers to check out our code (there are three pretty good ways of doing that with Git), nor have we determined how to authorise Capistrano on our servers yet.

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